‘Get on with the job. ‘I will support you with funds’

— Minister Daya Gamage tells spice producers


by Steve A. Morrell


Primary Industries Minister, Daya Gamage, said the spice trade should in effect be a one billion dollar foreign exchange earner, but mainly because of reduced production, the trade has not emerged into that level of exports.

He was speaking as the chief guest at the Spices and Allied Products Producers & Traders Association (SAPPTA) Annual General Meeting at the Ramada Hotel in Colombo on Friday.

He said that although the plantation sector could make a significant contribution towards spice production, they complained of lack of planting stock.

The minister said effective solutions should be that they raise their plant stock in their plant nurseries and in general terms ‘Get on with the job’.

"If it is that you want my assistance for funds, I will facilitate your needs. I am accessible. Meet me. Discuss your plans. I could give you the assurance you would be supported. It is an ongoing fact that tea and rubber prices have dropped. The plantation sector is wondering how they could make ends meet", he noted.

"Spices and spice production could be the saving factor for the plantation industry. But they must inform me of their plans. My ministry will support them", he assured.

Comparatively, in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Thailand, production results far exceeded Sri Lanka, particularly in pepper. Within five years, those countries had exceeded their production targets by as much as 100 percent, Gamage said.

However, cinnamon production placed Sri Lanka in a lead position being the highest producer world-wide, but production results were that there was no significant improvement in crop, he noted.

He also said assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank could be expected but such assistance had to be properly planned and executed.

Chairman, SAPPTA, Vernon Abeyratne, said the present high prices realized for pepper and cinnamon in particular was not translated into corresponding profit margins because of drop in production.

Although world demand was on an increasing barometer, Sri Lanka’s spice trade was behind other Asian countries. Market promotion was also an important factor that had to be addressed. Existing focus was insufficient to be effective in the global sphere.

Referring to the plantation sector, he said Malwatte Valley Plantations had made significant strides in improving their acreages growing spices. Similarly, there were five other Plantation Companies which have also contributed to increases in production. But such planning was only of recent origin.

However, subject to planning and physical work in progress, crop increases could be expected by 2020. Cashew was also now grown extensively, but results of crop increases could be not be witnessed in the immediate future, but in time positive results could be expected, Abeyratne said.

The SAPPTA Annual Report indicated volume and value of these products sourced from Sri Lanka Customs. Indicators were that in 2013, 52,259 tons were produced. Foreign exchange earned was US$ 474.5 million.

Comparatively, 2015 results were that the crop was recorded at 41,224 tons, but US$ 515.9 million was earned. Clearly, prices had improved, but the Sri Lanka spice trade could not take advantage of these price increases because of reduced production.

The report further referred to the importance of cardamom, cashew, cocoa and vanilla as "money spinners". Cinnamon continued to take precedence that Sri Lanka was the leading producer of this spice in the world. But, consideration should now be focused on value addition for all spice exports.

In South East Asian countries, Sri Lanka would have to compete with Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam, amongst others. India had made progress because of their reduced tax structure to encourage spice production.

The guest-of-honour, W. D. Lionel Gunerathne, Eexecutive director, International Pepper Community, Jakarta also spoke. M. C. M. Zarook, Immediate Past Chairman, SAPPTA, G. S. Chatoor, Founder Chairman, SAPPTA, S. A. Cader, Chairman, AGM Sub Committee, Yaan La Brooy and Gillian Nugara, Assistant Secretary General, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, (CCC) were also present.

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